BioShock fever swept across the industry.
It was inducted into the Smithsonian’s exhibit devoted to the art of video games, and has been hailed as one of the best games of all time.
Along with the original Mass Effect and 2008’s Braid, the game’s been used as examples when arguing the merit of video games as an art form. And it spawned two sequels: 2010’s BioShock 2 from 2K Marin was a direct sequel wherein players controlled a Big Daddy named Sigma a decade after the original game, granted the ability to use Plasmids and search for his missing Little Sister.
Conversely, Infinite by the returning Irrational starred private eye Booker DeWitt endeavored to ferry the reality-warping Elizabeth Comstock out of the sky city of Columbia in 1912. Both games would receive narrative DLC, but it was the “Burial at Sea” expansion for Infinite that definitively linked it with the story of the original game.
BioShock is Everywhere in Games, and Yet Nowhere in Itself
For those who play video games, 2007 is often considered one of the best years of the medium.
gizmodo.com : It was a year of bangers: Microsoft had Crackdown and Halo 3, Nintendo took Super Mario to the Galaxy, Call of Duty blew the world open by going modern, and so on. It cannot be understated how much that year just kicked ass for games, and in the upper echelon at the time was 2K Games’ Bioshock, which is now 15 years old as of today.
Developed by 2K Boston (later Irrational Games) and the now defunct 2K Australia, and directed and written by Boston’s Ken Levine, BioShock is a first-person shooter set in the 1960s. After surviving a plane crash, the protagonist Jack discovers the underwater city of Rapture, built as a haven for the elites of society by its creator, business magnate Andrew Ryan. The city was the perfect utopia, but everything eventually went to hell once a gene-altering substance called ADAM was discovered.
BioShock is a retrofuturistic video game series created by Ken Levine, published by 2K Games and developed by several studios, including Irrational Games and 2K Marin.
The BioShock games combine first-person shooter and role-playing elements, giving the player freedom for how to approach combat and other situations, and are considered part of the immersive sim genre. Additionally, the series is notable for exploring philosophical and moral concepts with a strong in-game narrative influenced by concepts such as Objectivism, total utilitarianism, and American exceptionalism.
The series consists of three main games. BioShock (2007) and BioShock 2 (2010) take place in the 1960s in the fictional underwater city of Rapture.
BioShock Infinite (2013) is thematically and narratively tied to the first games, but takes place in 1912 aboard the floating city of Columbia. After Infinite’s release, Irrational Games was downsized and rebranded as Ghost Story Games to work on smaller titles, while 2K Games retained rights to BioShock. The publisher announced that a new BioShock game was in development by Cloud Chamber in December 2019.
The game series has received critical and commercial acclaim. The series had sold more than 37 million copies by May 2021 making the series one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time. A film adaptation of the series is currently in development at Netflix.
Fifteen years ago, ‘BioShock’ redefined the narrative video game
“BioShock” is about a man whose plane crashes into the middle of the ocean. He discovers a bathysphere that transports him deep under the water and which places him in Rapture, a once-glorious city for everyone who wanted to leave the postwar power relations of the world and strike out on their own.
washingtonpost.com : It was once populated by rogue capitalists, scientists who wanted to be free to experiment without ethical constraint and people who sought hope in a world that was, effectively, starting from zero. In reality, the laissez faire social system produced in Rapture ended in dystopia; a scientific discovery called ADAM allowed people to warp their genes and produced a world of pseudo-zombified addicts who want to rip each other apart for the special juice inside of each other.
The player character is caught up in all of this as soon as they make their way into the city, and are immediately entrained by an ongoing war between the masters of various domains in Rapture, who they have to shoot their way through to progress through the game.
All of this is revealed to be a kind of proxy war between two factions: Atlas, the leader of a rebel faction who began the events that have destabilized Rapture to the state it is currently in; and Andrew Ryan, the founder and implicit tyrant of Rapture, who extolled the virtues of freedom while both privately and openly controlling many different parts of the city since its founding.
Bioshock Infinite Turns American Religious History Into A Nonsensical Nightmare
BioShock is celebrating its 15-year anniversary today, August 21, 2022. Below, we take a look at how the religious commentary in its sequel, BioShock Infinite, lacks the sharpness it needs to resonate.
gamespot.com : Part of that caricature is the game’s reluctance to clarify Comstock’s particular theology. We can infer that Comstock’s religion (which never gets a denominational title) believes in modern miracles, as Comstock claims to have spoken to an angel and produced a miracle child. It practices baptism by immersion. White supremacy and racism are woven into every aspect of its doctrine.
It uplifts the founding fathers to the level of sainthood. Besides these basic traits, there is no context for Comstock’s religion. There are no adjacent movements or sects. Though Comstock’s journey to become a prophet began with a baptism, the game never makes clear what group he entered.
This lack of specificity unties Comstock from any particular historical moment. BioShock Infinite seems to draw more from the conservative Tea Party movement–which, though politically focused, had a devotional character–more than any specific religious group, especially from the time period.
Still, the parallels to Utah and Mormonism remain. Before the game begins, Comstock’s floating city seceded from the United States. After the death of prophet Joseph Smith at the hands of mob violence in 1844, Brigham Young led a caravan to settle in what would become Utah. Thousands of Mormons would follow over the next decades. The territory was then under Mexican control until joining the US in 1850, and was the home of many indigenous peoples, including Shoshone, Paiute, and Goshute.
The key difference is, of course, that Columbia is a dream city floating in the sky. No people could have lived there before, and so Columbia imports, rather than imposes, the sociopolitical structure of a segregated United States. Though the massacre at Wounded Knee features into the game’s plot, there are no voiced indigenous characters and only racist cartoons appear in a propagandistic museum level. Intentionally or not, the floating city means that the game can largely sidestep the issue of colonial occupation.
BioShock’s Rapture Is Still The Best Dystopia In Games
“A city where the artist would not fear the censor. Where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality. Where the great would not be constrained by the small.”
dualshockers.com : Andrew Ryan’s sub-aquatic Randian paradise was first introduced with the release of BioShock back in 2007. Since then, the retrofuturistic corridors of Rapture have firmly embedded themselves in the psyche of those lucky enough to have travelled them. There have been countless depictions of dystopia in gaming from both before and after BioShock, but very few immerse the player as thoroughly as Rapture does.
Originally pitched as a laissez-faire utopia – by the time protagonist Jack arrives via Bathysphere, Rapture has devolved considerably. Rapture was intended by Ryan to be a collective of free-minded individuals, but with none of the community spirit that would designate the city as a commune – a commune would be the antithesis of Ryan’s creation.
Rapture instead encouraged an extreme sense of individualism while upholding property rights.
These dubious ideals coupled with an unregulated hypercapitalist economic system caused the swift collapse of Rapture, turning Ryan’s project from a heavily stratified but flourishing city into a lawless labyrinth of insanity and violence. The events of BioShock were the natural conclusion to Ryan’s dream, unbeknownst to him.